~ CHAPTER SEVEN ~
Thunk, Thunk.” The sound on the top of the tent woke me the next morning. I sat bolt upright grappling around for my knife, which hadn’t left my side since I found it. When I realized my tent was being bombed with pinecones I laughed at my reaction. I crawled outside, my joints stiff and protesting the crisp air of morning. The squirrels chattered excitedly and started aiming the pinecones at me. Some of them were pretty good shots, and we played a game of dodgems. When I talked to the squirrels they’d fall silent, then start chattering and jumping around, gathering more ammunition. Obviously, they were excited about having someone to pester on a Monday morning.
Wow, it’s Monday already. I’ve been gone a whole week. I wonder if Harry is worried about me. Maybe I should call Mary and Roy to let them know I’m okay. Later though, right now I’m hungry.
I cooked breakfast over three pieces of wood and made a cup of instant coffee. The bacon and toast was a delicious way to start the day, and again I thanked the two hunters. The squirrels fell silent as I left camp to go for a walk. “Sorry guys, I’ll be back later and you can pester me some more then.”
Once again, the weather was perfect and once again, I stood by the river and took in the beauty. The intricate carvings of wind and water on the rock was mesmerizing, there were pools and chutes in shapes that enticed me to climb in the water and see how the rock would fit the curves of my body. However, the water was swift and high after the recent rains, so I enjoyed the beauty from the safety of the trail. It was a far cry from the industrial town of Elkhart, and I could feel my lungs clearing out the pollution and filling with this clean, crisp, mountain air. Dressed in hiking boots and shorts I’d decided to tackle the 2 1/2 mile trail shown in the park brochure. I climbed up the steep, rocky trail cautiously, aware that there was no one around to help me if I slipped and injured myself. The surrounding beauty filled my soul and I found myself saying “Thank you, God,” repeatedly. I’m not a religious person, although I do believe there has to be something that makes the world go around. However, the clear mountain air, the sound of birds and the river rushing below had me believing, at least for a moment. From a high point on the trail, I looked out in wonder at the forest around me and felt as though I could soar. “Okay, God, if you’re listening, all I need right now is for that eagle to fly over my head so I can get a good gander at him.” Then, to my amazement, the eagle moved toward me and circled around my head six times, before catching a current and gliding away. “Wow. Thanks up there.” I beamed toward the heavens.
Back at camp, the squirrels greeted me eagerly and took up their favorite pastime once more. I decided to do some laundry and take a shower. I’d got rather grungy on the dusty trail and owned very few clothes suitable for camping in. Now they were soot covered and smelled like a stale campfire. While waiting for the clothes to dry I called Mary from the payphone. She was happy to hear from me, though a little surprised that I’d only got as far as Missouri. When I left Indiana I’d told her that I’d probably head to Colorado, and she’d expected me to be there in two or three days. I’m not sure she understood how much I was enjoying this lazy freedom. Her news was not so good. As suspected, Harry had not taken my leaving him well at all. He had called Mary repeatedly, saying awful things to her. She told me he’d admitted to doing drugs again, speed, cocaine, marijuana and of course, had returned to drinking. There was good news as well. Harry, in his anger, had stormed off to the courthouse and filed for divorce. The announcement was to be printed in the newspaper by the courts, and as long as I didn’t contest it, and Harry showed up for the final hearing in a month, I would be free.
I couldn’t believe my ears; he’d actually filed for divorce! I was elated and did a little-excited jump. In order to be out of this marriage, I simply had to let things go. If I asked for nothing from the marriage, I would be free. Well, that wouldn’t be hard, I already had everything I needed. I’d gone a whole week with only the items in my car, and if I’d managed one week, surely I could manage another week and another.
After saying goodbye to Mary, I called Harry’s sister. I wanted to confirm that Harry had filed for divorce. She confirmed that he had, and I told her that it was definitely over this time and asked if she would make sure he showed up for the final hearing in court. If she had to tie him up to get him there, I begged her to do so. She said okay, then proceeded to lay into me about the way I’d left Harry. She also asked me when I was going to pay back the money I owed to her mother; A few months before Harry and I had taken a trip to England, we had borrowed his mother’s credit card for the plane tickets and we still owed them money. I pointed out to her that I was homeless and didn’t have much money, had nowhere to go and no one to help me.
“Well, you chose to leave! It has nothing to do with us. You still owe that money.”
“You don’t get it, do you? I’m living on cold baked beans and sleeping in a tent.”
“That is your choice. Don’t think I’m going to feel sorry for you, you did it to yourself.”
“No, Harry did this to me. He abused me for years I never deserved that. I had to leave him. I stuck by him for ten years. I’ve had enough. Besides I don’t love him anymore.”
“He’s your husband. You’re supposed to stay with him no matter what.”
“Yes, like your mother stuck by your dad all those years. I don’t want to end up like her. Look, I put five years of hard labor into your mom’s house on Green Boulevard. We paid our rent regularly. I helped Harry fix the roof, I repaired floors, painted the house, and I built a beautiful garden and much more. You and your family are the ones who will benefit from my hard work. I must have hundreds invested in the flowers alone. Tell your mom to dig them up and sell them if she wants her money back.
“You owe us the money. You could sell your car!”
“No, we owe you the money. Not just me, and I’m leaving everything to Harry, I don’t want a thing. He can sell all my stuff, my furniture, everything if he wants to, or he can pay with that new promotion I just helped him get. Besides, I can’t possibly sell my car, its all I have left. Do you expect me to walk across this country?”
Harry’s sister sputtered and fumed on the other end of the line. I couldn’t believe they were blaming me for everything. It was clear that this conversation would only continue downhill, so I ended it by pleading one more time for her to make sure he went to court, and then hung up the phone.
Back at the tent, the squirrels were quiet as they peered at me from their vantage point, it was as though they could sense now wouldn’t be a good time to pick on me. I packed away my tent and clothes, all the time kicking at the grass and fuming, ranting to myself about the unfairness of it all and calling Harry and his family a choice assortment of names. At the same time, I realized that his sister was right about one thing. I had chosen to put myself in this position, I had chosen to leave that horrible marriage, and I’d chosen to travel across this country alone, with my car and tent as my only shelter. I really didn’t have any other options, but that didn’t matter. This was my choice, and I had to make the most of it. Once again, I kicked myself up the rear end and told myself to snap out of it and get on with living. It was getting easier to put small upsets aside. I supposed it was like everything else, the practice was making it easier. If I could choose to leave my abusive husband, I could also choose whether I was going to let his family upset me or not.
I left the upset in the dust of my Buick as I set off on the road again. The next state park on the map was Elephant Rocks, where a row of red granite rocks, a billion years old stood end-to-end like a train of circus elephants. The largest rock was 27ft high. As I was leaving, some people in the parking lot asked where I was headed all alone. I told them I’d left my husband, and they proceeded to tell me they had a friend who had an abusive husband and they wished she would leave him. I explained that it took time to get to that point, that it had taken me ten years, but at least it hadn’t taken me twenty, and for that, I’m grateful. They asked for my atlas, and wrote their name and phone number at the top of Oklahoma, with an arrow pointing to Tulsa.
“If you ever end up in this area, give us a call. We’ll spoil you for a night with a big soft bed, a hot bath and a gourmet dinner. You deserve it.”
“Thanks, I’ll keep it in mind, and that friend of yours–perhaps the best thing you can do is be there to listen when she needs it, be supportive. Don’t force her to do something she’s not ready for, she’ll know when she’s ready.”
I left the park shaking my head in wonder. It seemed that everybody knew somebody, who was suffering from abuse of one form or another. I was getting more horrified every day.
Back on the road, I noticed my car was running a little rougher than usual. I decided to buy some new plugs and plug wires. I’d been meaning to replace them for some time now, but had kept putting the job off. Now I had to keep this car running, it was all I had. I stopped at a Wal-Mart store and purchased the items, then proceeded to install them. I’d watched Harry install plugs many times and it didn’t appear hard. I found the point setter in my toolbox and spaced the points according to the chart. One of the plugs was hard to get out and didn’t look too good. I supposed this was the problem plug, and two of the wires had bad connections on the ends. When I had it all back together, I turned the ignition, and my home sat there purring happily. “Yes, I did it! all on my own.”
Looking at the map, I decided to go to Montauk State Park for the night near Hwy 32. After the solitude of the previous campsite, the number of campers in this campground was startling. What was most startling was that they were all men. It turned out that Montauk State Park was geared toward fishing, with fish hatcheries, trout derbies and more. I felt extremely uncomfortable while setting up my tent with twenty, or more pairs of male eyes watching my every move. I noticed that there were fishing rods and waders strewn around every campsite, but the fact that these men yielded poles instead of hunting rifles, didn’t ease my unease.
I hadn’t collected any wood on my journey that day, so I found the camp superintendent and purchased a bundle. He was also concerned about my being here all alone and very kindly stopped by with another bundle of wood for me. I was very grateful, though I didn’t know how having more wood would protect me. The Super said he would make a point of walking by my camp more often to check on me. Then he asked if I’d mind calling his daughter for him. She wanted to move to London for a while, and he didn’t want her to go. He hoped that if an English woman spoke to her, she might pay attention. He gave me a quarter, and I made the call, though I’m not sure how convincing I was, as I’d only ever spent two days in London my entire life, and I truly believed that experiencing a little bit of culture would be good for a young woman from America.
I’d set my camp close to the Current River so I could listen to it all night. I soon realized the problem with this plan. The rushing water drowned out all other noises so I couldn’t hear if anyone approached my camp. I wanted to move my tent again but knew I would look very foolish if I did, and the last impression I wanted to give these men, was that I was stupid. I spent the first part of the night straining my ears, imagining noises and peering out of my tent frequently. Eventually, I managed to put my fear aside and sleep. The more I thought about all the men out there, the more fearful I got, and I recognized that I was doing this to myself. Something like monsters in the closet or under the bed. If I could imagine bad things happening, I could also imagine good things. Like blissful sleep.
The next morning after packing up camp, I laid the map out on the hood of my car and realized that I would be in Arkansas that day. The odometer now read 897 miles, and I was surprised that I’d driven that far. Doing it in small steps, one day at a time had seemed like nothing. Today I was heading into a new State, I didn’t know what it held for me, and there was only one way to find out.
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